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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

11 Random Acts of Kindness for Families with Special Needs

So there we were, boarding one of the last shuttle buses before a charity walk on a warm afternoon, when we heard shouting outside.  Some of those waiting for the bus were angry that a family had bypassed the line after their bus had broken down.  It was a family with a child with special needs. They were in need of some kindness.

It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, but there are antidotes.  One antidote is to make the conscious choice to “pay it forward” with a random act of kindness.  Here are 11 acts of kindness that could really help a family with special needs.

1. Let someone go in front of you in line

It’s a simple act that can mean the difference between an easy errand and a complicated public meltdown for a family with special needs.

2. Give up your prime seat/parking spot

A person with special needs who is able to walk may have difficulty with balance or spatial awareness, and some states do not offer disability parking permits to all types of permanent disabilities.

3. Pay someone’s bill

It’s always a surprise when it happens.  You can choose to keep it anonymous or take the opportunity to say something kind.

4. Write a kind note

When my son was a toddler, I received a Mother’s Day card from a parent in our playgroup. Sarah wrote that she admired my grace under pressure and said that she had learned a lot by observing how I interacted with my son.  I’ve written notes to tell friends and acquaintances something positive about their children that no one else noticed – a kindergartener sticking up for a student with special needs, or a student with autism chatting with a friend between classes at his new school.

5. Help with housework or home repair

I have a difficult time keeping up with housework, home repair and landscaping because of the amount of time I spend helping with homework, teaching life skills, preparing meals and managing the bedtime routine.  Many other families with special needs are in the same position.  One time I organized a group to help a friend who had recently delivered twins, and everyone brought food for the family, took turns holding babies and each person picked a room of the house to clean.

6. Flowers

Considering buying a bunch of flowers and giving them out one by one all day long.  Studies at Rutgers University found 100% of people who received flowers smiled, and people smile more if they receive flowers often.

7. Errands

While you’re out running errands, call someone who is either homebound or has their hands full at home, and offer to pick up whatever they need at the moment.  A friend did this for me when I had pneumonia last year.

8. Give something useful

Every time you buy a new item of clothing, a new toy or a new household item, give away a similar item in gently used condition to someone who can use it.  Many friends gave me clothes during the years when it was difficult for me to go shopping, and I pass along my family’s used items to other friends.

9. Carpool

Attending an event can be easier with the support of a friend.  Offer to share a ride, and you’ll get a glimpse into another family’s everyday life.

10. The Great Bike Giveaway

Help buy an adaptive bike for a stranger who has special needs!  For the past 3 years, the Friendship Circle has given away hundreds of specialized bicycles and tricycles to children who are unable to ride standard bikes.  The Great Bike Giveaway will take place in March 2015.

11. Compliments

Give a compliment to a stranger who is having a really hard time.  When I was going through a difficult time taking care of my son, random strangers came up to me almost every day for at least a year to tell me that I was doing an amazing job as a mother.  Sometimes those were the only adults I spoke to all day long.  Their words made me stronger.  And now I’m the one who gives compliments to others.  Pay it forward!

Share your most memorable pay it forward moments below.

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Karen Wang

Written on October 23, 2014 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"
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